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Perhaps we’re biased, but there’s a unique beauty to drawing pencils that isn’t matched by your everyday writing pencil. Usually painted in a pleasing color and embossed with their name and grade, they cut a striking figure in one’s art box. Of course, you can’t judge a drawing pencil (solely) by its beauty. They come in a variety of grades: B pencils have more graphite in them, so they make dark and soft marks, while H pencils have more clay in them, which provides harder and more precise lines. A good drawing set will include a range of grades that transition smoothly from one into the next. Ahead, find top-notch options to get your sketching and drafting off to a good start.
Faber-Castell 9000 Pencils and Sets
The Castell 9000 pencil has a cult following and a long history: It was purportedly launched by Count Alexander von Faber-Castell himself back in 1905. Loved for all the right reasons—smooth lead, even transitions, consistent wood casing—the pencils are staples in many studios. The harder pencils avoid being scratchy thanks to the finely ground graphite and clay, and even the softer ones hold a point for a long time. The sets of 6 and 12 pencils come in handsome green tin, and the set of 15 pencils comes with a sharpener and an eraser and is packaged in a nylon pencil case. And, if some pencils in your set wear down more quickly than others, you can purchase the 9000 pencil in any hardness individually.
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Staedtler Mars Lumograph Drawing and Sketching Pencils and Sets
The casual sketcher perhaps doesn’t need the extended range of values that Staedtler provides, all the way from a very soft 12B to a very hard 10H, but the serious artist will appreciate that Staedtler has softer and harder pencils than most other high-quality lines. In addition to its graphite line, the German brand has developed a group of B-range pencils, Lumograph Black, that mix graphite with carbon for velvety, dark tones that don’t have a hint of shine. Besides the range of tones, we note that all Lumograph pencils are sturdy, consistent, and smooth. A nice touch: Identifying information is printed in highly legible gold on every side of the hexagonal barrel.
Blick Studio Drawing Pencils and Sets
Blick’s drawing pencils, which come in a standard range of 6B to 6H, are reliable, accurately graded tools that blend seamlessly. The hard pencils are crisp and the soft pencils effortlessly drop pigment on the page, making both easy to erase. The grade is printed on all six sides of this pencil, and the 12-piece set comes in a handy tin case, showing once again that Blick’s no-frills products are thoughtfully presented. Plus, the whopping 144-pencil “class pack,” which includes 24 sets of 6 grades ranging from 6B to 2H, is an excellent deal for teachers.
Purchase: Blick Studio Drawing Pencils and Sets, $1.50—$59.99 on Dick Blick
General’s Kimberly Drawing Pencils and Sets
For a durable, reliable set, the General’s Kimberly pencils should not be overlooked. Offering an impressive range of grades going from a very soft 9XXB to a hard 9H, the Kimberly uses a dense Ceylon graphite core and treated cedar casing to withstand a good deal of pressure. The soft pencils are dark and strong, and all of them resist the shininess that some graphite pencils can have.
Koh-I-Noor Progresso Woodless Graphite Pencils and Set
Woodless pencils are just a lead core, usually thicker than in your standard pencil, coated in a protective lacquer. They offer a number of advantages over wooden pencils—you get more product so your pencils last a long time, and since more lead is exposed, these are excellent tools for shading. They also have one significant disadvantage when compared with wooden pencils: lacking a shock-absorbing casing, they are much more fragile. In other words, these pencils may not be ideal for your travel bag. Available in soft leads ranging from 9B to HB, the Koh-I-Noor Progresso uses high-density graphite that applies silkily to the page.